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Emergency Rental Assistance helps tenants beyond covering back rent

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Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) has kept millions of low-income renters in their homes during the pandemic by helping them catch up on back rent; but that’s just one of the program’s many short-term benefits according to a new report.

The June report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies found that with increased housing stability, ERA has helped low-income renters meet other critical needs, including financial well-being and mental health.

Promoting financial stability

Many households that got ERA still faced financial stress during the pandemic, but far more of those waiting for rental assistance had trouble paying their bills. 

Among ERA recipients, 67% still had difficulty paying all their bills, while 85% of applicants waiting on assistance reported they could not do so.

Low-income renters have been more likely to tap into their savings during the pandemic. They have also relied on borrowing from friends and family to make ends meet during the crisis. Households that received ERA, though, were less likely to cash in their savings or rely on family and friends for financial support.

While 18% of recipients tapped their savings during the pandemic, 25% of applicants used their savings. Among recipients, 34% borrowed from friends and family, while 48% of applicants relied on their personal networks for financial help.

Putting food on the table

Beyond paying bills, Emergency Rental Assistance has allowed low-income renters to cover other basic expenses during the pandemic.

Recipient households faced less food insecurity than applicants waiting for assistance. While 30% of recipients reported they had trouble getting enough to eat for their families, 40% of applicants reported food insecurity.

Catching up on rent

Not surprisingly, ERA recipients were more likely to be caught up on rent than program applicants. Recipients were also less likely to be behind on rent by at least 3 months and less concerned about being evicted.

While 25% of renters who received assistance reported they were behind on rent, 65% of applicants were late with rent.

Housing stability helps promote peace of mind

The data also show that housing stability has a positive effect on mental health. The Household Pulse Survey asked people if they experienced any of the following mental health issues in the weeks before the survey: Anxiety, worry, depression, or little interest in things.

About half of ERA recipients reported experiencing poor mental health. However, two-thirds of applicants waiting for assistance said they experienced mental health stresses.

Affordable housing crisis continues as ERA winds down

This research shows that ERA does more than just keeping low-income renters in their homes. 

Emergency Rental Assistance also frees up resources so that families can pay other critical bills, and put food on the table. And reducing financial stress and providing a stable home has a positive impact on mental health.

Many state and local ERA programs have already run out of funds. The rest will be winding down over the next few months. Millions of low-income renters were unable to afford the rent even before the pandemic. As the nation starts to get back on its feet, ERA remains an ongoing need.

The Harvard report looked at data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. It compared survey responses of renter households that have already received ERA with those that have applied but are still waiting for approval.

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